The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage at Work

CUPA-HR Staff Book Discussion GroupWe’ve all read about it, heard about it and discussed it with our HR colleagues — unhappy employees hurt our organizations.

Author and researcher Shawn Achor has become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success, and when he was first selected as a keynote speaker for the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo 2016 in Washington, D.C., a small group of CUPA-HR staff set out to discover his secrets to happiness by organizing a book club to read and discuss Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage.

Our first act of happiness was to plan to meet for our book discussions at a local craft beer shop (because what happier place could there be, really?). Our second act was to dive head first into happiness.

What we learned was how powerful your brain can be — think experiment subjects who actually gave themselves the biological response of poison ivy even though they’d not been in contact with the plant!

In addition to the copious amounts of research supporting Achor’s idea that happiness comes before success not after it, what I found most helpful from his book were the practical ideas he shared for small changes that can help create more happiness in your life. Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • Find something to look forward to. One study shared in Achor’s book found that “people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.” With a growing passion for travel, I decided to map out my upcoming trips — a Santa Fe spa weekend and an annual-conference-turned-vacation trip to Washington, D.C. I’ve spent time each week planning some small element of those trips as a way to look forward to the fun experiences. As I searched one week for the best restaurants and breweries to visit and another week for fun outdoor activities or museums in each location, I felt a swell of happiness in the anticipation.
  • Write down three things each day for which you’re grateful. My husband and I started this practice together. Every evening at dinner, we each share three things that were “good things” for the day. Even though some days are harder than others, for us it’s helped focus our evening conversation on the positive things in our days rather than always venting about the negative.
  • Infuse positivity into your surroundings. As I took Achor’s advice and considered the things I surround myself with in a given day, I made some changes to ensure my surroundings were positive. I’ve made it a point to keep the window blinds in my office open to let the sun shine in while I’m working. I’ve tacked a few funny photos to my wall and made an effort each day to get outside for a positive mood booster. Experiencing these new surroundings don’t come with earth-shattering happiness, but the small improvement in mood has helped add just a bit of happiness to my days.
  • Exercise a signature strength each day. I started this small change by taking this survey suggested in Achor’s book. Then, I chose just one signature strength — mine was humor — and I tried to use it in a new way each day for a week. What I found was that responding to a coworker with a funny meme or finding a way to laugh at a bad situation with a friend has helped me feel more energized (and happy) in the face of tough days.

So after reading 207 pages, drinking five craft beers with two great colleagues, and giving these four happiness-boosters a try, I can say that Achor’s happiness advantage has had a positive impact on me and in turn on the CUPA-HR office. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of impact that happiness has on my success.

If you’re interested in learning more practical, actionable principles to improve overall performance and maximize individual performance across campus, register for the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo 2016 where Achor will be speaking on September 25, or watch his TED talk here. You might also consider adding these books and articles to your summer reading list for a happier life personally and professionally.